After an accident at an AT&T store, Jane Smith-Stage turns to me for help with her medical bills But what can be done?

Question: I’m writing in hopes that you can help me with a challenge I’m having with AT&T. Last August, I was in an AT&T retail store in Smyrna, Tenn., to purchase an iPhone. When I had selected my phone, the sales associate suggested that we sit while she went over the information. I slipped and fell while climbing onto the stool.

After leaving the store, we immediately went to an emergency room where I learned that I had fractured my left wrist. I went to the Vanderbilt Orthopedic Clinic, where my arm was cast.

X-rays taken a few weeks later indicated that the break was not healing properly and surgery would be required to place a plate and screws in my wrist. Following my surgery, I started physical and occupational therapy.

As a result of the surgery, I developed Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) which resulted in additional therapy, doctor visits and medication. I was released from the doctor and therapy in early November, however, there is a high probability that I will have some degree of continuing problems from the CRPS.

At this point, my direct expenses related to the injury are in excess of $25,000, which I can’t pay. I’m now receiving demand letters from a collection agency.

The store manager, as well as others at AT&T corporate, directed me to Sedgwick CMS, AT&T’s third-party claims administrator, regarding assistance with my medical expenses. My claim has been denied.

What I want and need is for AT&T to do the right thing for a long-time customer, and that is to help me with my medical bills. — Jane Smith-Stage, Nolensville, Tenn.

Answer: I’m sorry to hear about your medical problems. AT&T should ensure that its stores have safe furniture in them, of course. But there’s no clear culprit here in this story — and unfortunately, no clear resolution.

AT&T does bear some responsibility for having a stool in one of its stores that caused your fall. Typically, a company would carry liability insurance, to which a claim like this would be sent. In your case, AT&T referred your claim to its insurance company, which determined it was not liable. I’ll have details in a moment.

But there’s also the issue of personal responsibility. I’m not just talking about looking behind you before you sit down, which goes without saying. Why didn’t you have medical insurance that would have covered such an event?

It turns out you tried to buy insurance but were denied because of a previous, unrelated medical condition. Not to get too political — after all, this is a consumer advocacy column — but something is wrong with the medical care system when you can’t get coverage because of a pre-existing medical condition.

The recent healthcare reforms were too late to cover this incident, leaving you with a $25,000 bill. I can’t make that bill go away, but you might try contacting a medical advocate like Health Assist Tennessee, which could explain your options and guide you through the process of repaying your bill without being harassed by collectors.

I contacted AT&T on your behalf repeatedly. The result was less than ideal. You received a letter from the company, saying that your claim should be sent to the chair’s manufacturer, Dauphin North America. I would be happy to contact the manufacturer on your behalf if, and when, it rejects your claim. Or you could take this matter to small claims court. Coincidentally, the claims limit is $25,000, so you could conceivably recover everything.

But for now, at least, AT&T is a dead end. I wish I had better news.

Should AT&T cover Jane Smith-Stage's medical bills?

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